Boquist not banned from Senate despite legal opinion
The Senate Special Committee on Conduct will investigate complaints made against a Republican state senator who represents portions of Hillsboro and rural Cornelius.
A formal complaint has been filed against Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, whose district stretches from the Corvallis area north of neighborhoods near Hillsboro High School and rural Cornelius. Boquist was one of 11 Republicans who walked out of the Capitol in protest against a cap-and-trade bill pushed by Democrats, who have supermajorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski has said the committee will review the complaint against Boquist on July 8.
Gov. Kate Brown authorized the Oregon State Police to find and return the senators to Salem. Boquist drew national headlines after he threatened that any troopers sent to retrieve him should be "bachelors and come heavily armed" a statement many took as a threat of violence against troopers. Boquist also clashed with Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. Boquist told Courtney on the Senate floor the day before the walkout that if state police were sent to retrieve him "hell's coming to visit you personally."
Following Boquist's remarks, the Capitol was closed after far-right militia groups made "credible threats" against state legislators, according to the Oregon State Police. Some lawmakers blamed Boquist for escalating the situation.
Legislative leaders were advised last week to ban Boquist from the Capitol over his threatening language, but Courtney said he had limited direct authority over other senators.
The Legislature routinely hires outside attorneys to consider reports of workplace safety concerns. A private Portland attorney advising the Legislature outlined concerns about Boquist in a two-page memo obtained by Pamplin Media Group's news partner, the Salem Reporter newspaper.
The memo, dated Tuesday, June 25, was produced by attorney Brenda Baumgart of Portland-based Stoel Rives and was addressed to Dexter Johnson, the legislative counsel, and Jessica Knieling, interim legislative human resources director.
"I recommend immediate measures be taken to ensure that the Capitol is free from threats of (or actual) violence and intimidation," Baumgart said.
According to Baumgart's letter, Boquist's comments caused several "members and branch employees" to report fear for themselves and others working in the Capitol. She said it was customary to not allow someone who threatens violence into the work place until the employer can ensure that employees are safe.
In her memo, Baumgart said she found Boquist's threats credible.
On June 21, Courtney called Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, and encouraged him to ask Boquist to voluntarily stay away from the Capitol.
The lawyer's advice came in the following days on Thursday, Johnson, Knieling, and Courtney's staff met with Prozanski, who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Conduct, which addresses to such reports.
They considered closing off the Senate galleries, open to spectators to watch the proceedings, and then were advised by state police instead to tighten security around the chamber.
Knieling emailed employees in the Capitol on Friday, June 28, giving them the option to stay away from work if they felt unsafe.
"In the midst of ongoing concerns, we wanted to remind and encourage all employees who have a safety concern to discuss the concern with your supervisor or Jessica Knieling," the email read.
On Sunday, the last day of the legislative session, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, asked Courtney and Baertschiger, the Republican leader, to keep Boquist from returning to the floor in light of the threats Boquist had made.
Courtney allowed Boquist to return, but called for increased police presence in the Capitol on Sunday.
"That's just wrong," Gelser told Salem Reporter. "Everyone has a right to feel safe. I will no longer support leaders or processes that empower those who intimidate, harass or threaten others. At some point someone has to stand up and say 'Enough!'"
The Conduct Committee investigates complaints against legislators and could recommend that Boquist be either reprimanded, censured, or expelled. Censures are rare in the Oregon Senate. No legislator has ever been expelled.
Any committee recommendation would need approval of two-thirds of the Senate, which would require at least two Republicans to vote in favor.
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